Real Estate Realities
Detecting Problems Early Pays Off
By David Rosenfeld
Jul 13, 2012 - 11:30:44 AM

LOS ANGELES—In today’s market, buying a new home is always fraught with potential pitfalls. Whether it’s negotiating with the seller, dealing with banks, or simply visiting the property itself for the first time, the nature of home buying is not simple by any means.


Whether you’re thinking of buying or already have experience in buying property, it’s always best to have a real estate expert to help guide you through the maze of a sometimes unruly market. It’s especially true as you visit a property you’ve been eyeing for possible purchase. Looking for potential problems with the property during your visit is particularly important.

A common mistake buyers make is pay too much attention to dirt. If a home looks messy, with dirty floors, dusty cabinets and clutter, it’s not the end of the world. Dirt can be cleaned up. Clutter can be picked up. Floors can be washed. Too many potential buyers pay too much attention to these details and walk away from a potentially nice home simply because it looks messy.

You should look beyond those things and look instead at the real problems a house could have. Look for water or mold stains on walls, carpeting, floors, cabinets and even furniture. All these could be tell-tale signs of leaky or broken pipes or pipes about to burst.

When you look outside, the same is true. Look for water stained walls, water puddles or muddy ground or saturated grass area which could mean leaky or broken underground pipes. Either way, these are major problems that must be dealt with and could cost thousands of dollars if it means repiping or replacing expensive underground waste lines.

Despite what some may say in radio ads, replacing galvanized steel pipes with copper pipes is an expensive proposition that could run you from $5,000 to $20,000 depending on the size of the home.

Checking electrical panels, outlets and fixtures for damage and wear is also important for the new home buyer. For these, it’s important to hire an expert to inspect the home thoroughly to ensure it’s in good condition. Any inspector will likely set you back anywhere from $200 to $700, depending on the size of the home.

Besides inspecting the home, it’s always important to be a good listener and understand the information laid out. Ignoring crucial facts can come back to haunt you. Take a former client who was buying a particularly nice home which had a walkway that was unusually elevated at one point. I’d seen this before and asked him to have the sewer line checked because it may be leaking. He gave the walkway a good look and declared that it wasn’t necessary. Months later, the sewer line broke and it ended up costing him about $8,000 in repairs.

Checking for termite damage and structural damage is also important for the potential buyer as these can be deal breakers from the get go. Loose or soft floorboards are a bad sign as are small piles of sand-like termite droppings on the floor along cabinets, doorways and windows. Termite damage is serious since this can weaken a home’s structure and cause expensive repairs.

It’s best to have a knowledgeable termite inspector examine a home thoroughly before you make your decision on purchasing the property.

Even as you find the need for repairs for a potential new home, you need to realize whether you are ready to take on the expense of what could be a “fixer-upper.” If extensive repairs are in order, you have to decide whether you have the means to pay for the needed improvements. Making sure you have the budget is crucial because many fail to realize that they are not ready to live in home that needs a lot of repairs and end up living in an unfinished project.

The bottom line is that you have to be well capitalized to take on a fixer-upper or you’ll be miserable living in a home that has a bathroom that doesn’t work or pipes that always need repair, for instance. Be realistic and cautious when it comes seeing a potential new home and give your broker a chance to advise you and guide you through the process because he or she won’t be happy until you are.

David Rosenfeld is a Real Estate broker and president of Advantage Real Estate, a Real Estate and investment firm in Santa Monica. He has more than 20 years experience in commercial and residential property investments and financial counseling.

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